The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the new NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9, while Sam Darnold is to be quickly reunited with the New York Jets.

Ahead of the full schedule release later on Wednesday, the Week 1 slate was confirmed with Tom Brady's Bucs the highlight.

After winning the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, seven-time champion Brady is in the Thursday night game against the Cowboys in Tampa.

The Bucs have brought back the entirety of their title-winning team and face a Dallas outfit aiming to improve on an awful 2020 after signing Dak Prescott to a long-term contract.

Elsewhere, quarterback Darnold will make his Carolina Panthers debut against the Jets team he left this offseason.

In three miserable years in New York, Darnold threw for 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions across 38 games with a 59.8 completion percentage – the third-worst rate in the league over this period.

The former third overall pick was traded to the Panthers last month for a sixth-round pick this year and a second and fourth-rounders in 2022, with the Jets then using the second selection in 2021 to take Zach Wilson.

Among Wilson's fellow first-round QBs, Mac Jones could potentially make his bow against the man he succeeded at Alabama.

Jones, who is competing for the starting spot on the New England Patriots with Cam Newton, will hope to face Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in a big AFC East matchup.

Trevor Lawrence is likely to go straight into the Jacksonville Jaguars team against the Houston Texans, while Trey Lance will hope to get his chance under center for the San Francisco 49ers at the Detroit Lions and Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears at the Los Angeles Rams in the late Sunday game.

The NFL also confirmed Wilson and Lawrence would be in line for appearances in the London games in October, with the Jets facing the Atlanta Falcons and the Jaguars taking on the Dolphins on consecutive weekends.

Another of the more intriguing Week 1 games sees the Green Bay Packers travel to the New Orleans Saints.

As the Saints begin the post-Drew Brees era, the Packers will hope wantaway MVP Aaron Rodgers is still on the team and able to improve his 3-2 career record as a starter against New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks, who have kept hold of Russell Wilson, face the Indianapolis Colts, and Patrick Mahomes' latest title tilt sees the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns.

Mahomes went down with a toe injury and then a concussion in an epic Chiefs win over the Browns in the 2020 postseason, with 35-year-old backup Chad Henne making his playoff debut and having a pick and a sack but completing six of eight passes to complete the job.

In the first Monday Night Football of the season, Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens will go to the Las Vegas Raiders.


Week 1 schedule in full:

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sep 9, 8:20pm ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Denver Broncos at New York Giants – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams – Sep 12, 8:20pm ET
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders – Sep 13, 8:15pm ET

Judging draft picks in the immediate aftermath of their selection can be a foolhardy endeavour, as the success of rookies that enter the league depends on several factors including situation, opportunity and luck.

While it is tough to dole out grades for players who have not even hit the practice field for their new teams, it is possible to assess the totality of a franchise's moves in a draft and determine who has been impacted, positively and negatively, by those player selections.

In a draft dominated by a historic level of talent at the position, it is the classes of teams that made changes at quarterback that will likely have the most significant influence on the league.

After five quarterbacks went in the first round, we use Stats Perform data to determine the winners and losers from a draft that should go on to be remembered as one of the most important in NFL history.


Winners

Chicago Bears fans

Who knows whether the Justin Fields-era in Chicago will be a success? The weight of history surrounding Bears quarterbacks suggests it has a very good chance of being a failure.

But by trading up to land the Ohio State quarterback instead of committing to a year of purgatory with Andy Dalton, the Bears ensured they should be significantly more watchable in 2021, assuming post-draft talk about wanting to sit Fields behind Dalton proves false.

Fields is an exciting downfield thrower who averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt in the 2020 college season. It is an imperfect comparison given the difference in the level of competition but the two Bears starters in 2019, Mitchell Trubisky (7.94) and Nick Foles (7.92), each averaged under eight air yards per attempt.

And Fields was accurate when he pushed the ball downfield. On throws of 15 air yards or more, 76.47 per cent were well thrown, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for 15th overall pick Mac Jones.

His aggressive style should mesh well with number one receiver Allen Robinson, who was fifth in the NFL with 908 of his receiving yards coming at the point of reception.

Fields will also have the benefit of improved protection from a nasty offensive tackle in the form of second-round pick Teven Jenkins.

Jenkins allowed a pressure rate of 2.9 per cent in 2020, third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection snaps. The top tackle in that regard was Larry Borom of Missouri (1.8%), whom Chicago drafted in the fifth round.

Chicago also further helped Fields' cause by drafting Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert, who was second in the Power 5 in yards per carry (7.63) among running backs with at least 100 carries and Dazz Newsome, the North Carolina wideout who was 11th in burn percentage (71) among receivers with at least 25 slot targets. 

The Bears have been a chore to watch in recent years. It isn't clear whether the move up for Fields will work and it is debatable whether general manager Ryan Pace should have been allowed to make it given his track record, but there is finally reason for a passionate fanbase to be genuinely excited about their team.

Zach Wilson

Wilson going second overall to the Jets was no secret, but New York did an excellent job of taking steps to ensure concerns over his one season of elite production against non-Power 5 opposition do not prove prescient by surrounding him with talent.

A trade up for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker raised eyebrows but his pressure rate allowed of 1.3 per cent when playing left guard for USC in 2019 was the best in the Power 5 and suggests he can lock down that spot for the next decade for the Jets.

Wide receiver Elijah Moore brings inside-out versatility and should have gone in the first round. Instead, the Ole Miss star went 34th overall to the Jets, adding a wideout who led the FBS in receiving yards per game (149.1) last season to an intriguing group that includes Denzel Mims, Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

Third-round running back Michael Carter will give offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur a versatile skill set to utilise.

The North Carolina back led Power 5 runners with 100 carries or more in yards per carry (7.98) and yards before contact per rush (5.36) in 2020.

As a receiver, Carter was eighth among those Power 5 backs, who also had a minimum of 10 targets, in burn yards per target (10.86).

Carter should, therefore, be able to have a substantial impact in the zone-running scheme the Jets will employ in 2021 and influence the passing game significantly.

Growing pains are to be expected in Wilson's rookie season in New York but this was a draft in which the Jets went to great lengths to make his adaptation to the pros as smooth as possible.

Lamar Jackson

Every year, the Baltimore Ravens do an excellent job of letting the draft board come to them and reaping the rewards.

In 2020, they stole linebacker Patrick Queen in the back end of the first round. This year they grabbed arguably the most well-refined receiver in the draft, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, with the 27th overall pick.

A truncated 2020 season in which he played just five games following a bout of coronavirus may not have helped Bateman's stock, but his 2019 tape showed a receiver who can develop into a number one target for Lamar Jackson.

Bateman can excel at all levels of the field and his downfield upside shone through in 2019, when he was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago, with Henry Ruggs III and Chris Olave the only players in the same group to produce a superior big-play percentage to Bateman's 50.4.

Big plays in the passing game have not been consistent for the Ravens. Jackson (25) had fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more than Teddy Bridgewater (27) and Drew Lock (28) in 2020.

Bateman has the talent to greatly increase that tally of explosive plays while the addition of Tylan Wallace, who was eighth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets last season with a burn yards per route average of 4.33, should further boost Jackson's hopes of bouncing back as a passer in 2021.

Having also addressed the interior of the offensive line by drafting Ben Cleveland, whose pressure rate allowed of 2.7 per cent was seventh among Power 5 guards last season, in the third round, Jackson goes into 2021 in an excellent position to take the passing game to levels that escaped the 2019 MVP in 2020.

In the coming season, Jackson will have much better weapons and should have improved protection. If the Ravens' offense falls short again in the playoffs in 2021, he won't have much room for excuses.

Losers

Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh lost left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the versatile Matt Feiler in free agency but did nothing to fill either of the voids left by that duo until the third round when they picked up athletic Illinois guard Kendrick Green. Tackle Dan Moore was picked in the fourth round.

Instead, they spent their first two picks on a running back and a tight end in Alabama's Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth of Penn State, stacking the offense with further weapons for Ben Roethlisberger in what will likely be his last season in the NFL.

But, beyond running back, weapons were not the need for the Steelers. Harris is an upgrade in the backfield but he averaged only 2.14 yards after contact per rush last season, below the Power 5 average of 2.21, and typically the offensive line has just as much of an impact on running game production as the back.

A failure to prioritise the trenches could result in Harris struggling to evade defenders that the O-Line has allowed into the backfield. More worryingly for Roethlisberger, the lack of a dependable replacement at left tackle could leave a quarterback who missed 14 games as recently as 2019 open to punishment from opposing pass rushers.

Roethlisberger completed 50.7 per cent of his passes when under pressure in 2020, the fifth-worst number of all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. If this is to be his swansong, the Steelers are not setting him up for a successful one.

Trevor Lawrence

Ok, so Trevor Lawrence is a winner. He's the number one overall pick and is set to be paid millions to take his talents to the highest level.

But, in terms of the situation he is going into in Jacksonville, the Jaguars did little to help him.

With the 25th pick, they passed up the chance to boost their pass-catching options in favour of drafting his Clemson team-mate, running back Travis Etienne, following a 2020 season in which undrafted rookie James Robinson finished the year sixth in yards after contact per attempt (2.34). 

Simply put, Etienne was the definition of an unnecessary luxury pick.

Tyson Campbell was a decent value pick at 33rd overall in the second round but Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, who developed a reputation during his time running the San Francisco 49ers for taking ill-advised risks on players with bad injury histories, picked a safety in Andre Cisco who tore his ACL in September and offensive tackle Walker Little, who has not played a game since 2019, when he featured in just one before suffering a knee injury.

The only pass-catching additions came in the form of a 29-year-old tight end, Luke Farrell, in the fifth round and wide receiver Jalen Camp in the sixth. 

Between D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault, Lawrence does have reasonable weapons, but the Jags did not do much to add to his arsenal.

NFC West run defenses

Teams trying to stop the 49ers' ground game have had a hard time since Kyle Shanahan became head coach in 2017.

Their 224 rushes of 10 yards or more are tied sixth in the NFL in that time, and that tally looks set to increase after San Francisco drafted a franchise quarterback in Trey Lance who boasts a devastating mix of speed and power in the open field.

Lance's 14 touchdowns in 2019 were bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and FCS, his rushing average of 6.5 yards fifth among signal-callers with at least 100 rushes.

San Francisco then added further to their ground game by picking Trey Sermon in the third round and Elijah Mitchell in the sixth.

In the Power 5 and Group of Five, just four running backs with a minimum of 100 attempts had a better yards per carry average than Sermon's 7.50 last season.

Burst to the second level is a key trait for Sermon, who was fourth in average yards before contact per attempt with 4.85.

The electric Mitchell, meanwhile, averaged the third-most yards after contact per attempt, putting up 3.23 per rush, a rate beaten by Javonte Williams (4.59) and Jaret Patterson (3.25).

Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are each free agents in 2022 but, by drafting Lance, Sermon and Mitchell, the Niners ensured their run game is about to get more diverse and potentially more destructive.

For the three NFC West teams that face them twice a year, that is simply terrible news.

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

Zach Wilson says the New York Jets need a good quarterback and a good leader and he has the qualities to fulfil that.

Wilson was taken as the second overall pick in Thursday's NFL Draft by the Jets who finished with a 2-14 record in 2020.

The BYU talent becomes the Jets' highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath in 1965 and offered fresh hope for the franchise who have not made the playoffs since 2010.

"These guys need a good quarterback, a good leader," Wilson told ESPN after his selection.

"I think I've got those qualities and I can't wait to go in there. I love the coaching staff, I love everything they have to offer, and I can't wait to get to New York City."

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence went first overall, selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the Jets' pick of Wilson expected to be a foregone conclusion.

"You know what, I wouldn't believe it until the day it happened but this is exactly what I was hoping for," Wilson said.

"[I'm] so excited for the opportunity and I know we are going to have something special. I can't wait to get to work."

Wilson threw for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 12 games last season.

The New York Jets didn't get the chance to draft Baker Mayfield. Three years later, they may not be passing up on taking a reasonable facsimile.

There's seemingly little drama at the very summit of this year's NFL Draft, where Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been seen as a foregone conclusion to land in Jacksonville from the day the Jaguars clinched the No. 1 overall pick in December. And if a growing amount of media speculation can be taken as fact, the Jets appear locked in to making BYU's Zach Wilson their latest attempt at finding a franchise signal-caller when they pick at No. 2.

So, why has Wilson, a fringe prospect leading into his stellar junior season with the Cougars, presumably vaulted to near the top of a quarterback-heavy class that also features three other likely first-round choices in Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones?

Joe Burrow had a similar rise just a year ago, going from a projected late-round prospect to the top overall pick on the strength of a record-setting final season at LSU. And when using Stats Perform's advanced metric data, Wilson's 2020 campaign compares quite favourably with the final collegiate seasons of the last three No. 1 overall selections – Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Burrow.

Wilson v former No. 1 overall picks

Wilson's final year with the Cougars has the edge over the farewell college seasons of that trio in two key areas, completion percentage on third down and on throws of at least 20 air yards. He completed 79.7 per cent of his third-down throws (first in the FBS among QBs with a minimum of 40 attempts) and connected on 63.3 per cent of throws of 20 air yards or more, which also led FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts.

Neither Mayfield (62.0), Murray (65.0) or Burrow (65.6) come close to Wilson in third-down percentage. It is the same story when pushing the ball over 20 yards through the air. Mayfield's completion percentage on such pass attempts (53.3) ranked first in the FBS in 2017 while Burrow (58) was second in 2019 but they and Murray (10th in 2018 with 49.3) were again well adrift of Wilson.

When blitzed, Wilson's completion percentage of 67.9 trailed only Burrow in 2019 (69.6), though on play-action throws (73.4 per cent) he was inferior to both Mayfield (73.6) and Burrow (75.2). That duo also had the edge in the red zone. Mayfield led FBS quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts in 2017 with a 70.7 completion percentage, with Wilson's mark of 66.7 below that and Burrow's effort in 2019 (72.2).

Yet in essence, Wilson's performance on deep throws, in play-action situations and within the red zone was a near carbon-copy to those of Mayfield and Burrow. Mayfield has been a popular comp to the Utah native, and for good reason as they're similarly sized and play with an evident abundance of bravado and swagger. That gunslinger mentality often worked against Mayfield in his second NFL season, when his 21 interceptions were the second highest in the league in 2019, but a more judicious approach in 2020 led to a much higher rate of efficiency and more importantly, greater team success as the Cleveland Browns nearly doubled their win total from six to 11.

Wilson's numbers, in fact, trump those of Lawrence, who finished no higher than 19th among qualified FBS quarterbacks in those categories.

Now, that still doesn't necessarily mean that Wilson should be viewed as the superior prospect. Lawrence, much like the three quarterbacks mentioned above, faced an overall higher level of competition than his draft counterpart, who did not go up against a single Power 5 team during BYU's breakout 2020 season.

Wilson did face four major conference teams as a sophomore in 2019, and while his overall stats in those games (997 passing yards, 62.8 completion percentage, three touchdowns, three interceptions) were not overwhelming, he did lead the Cougars to wins at Tennessee and against Southern California with turnover-free efforts in each. While the sample size is still small, it's enough to suggest he can succeed against quality opponents at the next level if he plays within himself.

Why Wilson fits the Jets like a glove

Perhaps Wilson's most endearing trait to quarterback-needy teams, and arguably the main reason why he seems destined to be off the board within the top three picks, is his prowess on play-action passes. That is a staple of the Kyle Shanahan offense run by the San Francisco 49ers, who own the No. 3 pick and have gone on record stating they intend to take a quarterback.

The Jets, meanwhile, have spent the offseason attempting to morph into 49ers East by hiring San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Salah as their new head coach and tabbing Shanahan disciple Mike LaFleur as offensive coordinator. And with Sam Darnold having been shown the door following three seasons of largely unmet expectations, it's clear the next order of business is finding a young field general well-suited to run LaFleur's scheme.

It's also clear that this is a decision the Jets can't get wrong this time around. Wilson may not have the highest ceiling of the group behind Lawrence – that belongs to the uber-athletic but somewhat unpolished Lance – but he'd be the safest bet. He's the best play-action quarterback in this class and probably the most seamless fit for either the Jets or 49ers, having operated in an offense at BYU that utilised a heavy dose of outside-zone running that's common to the Shanahan system. Wilson can also reasonably be viewed as a better prospect than Burrow, as his arm strength is superior to last year's top choice.

Detractors can fairly point out, however, that Burrow may not have been the best quarterback of the 2020 class – Justin Herbert certainly had the best rookie season. The same can be said for Mayfield, who was drafted No. 1 in the same year as an eventual NFL MVP (Lamar Jackson) and a runner-up for last season's award (Josh Allen).

Still, Mayfield has a playoff win on his resume and an above .500 record as a starter for a franchise that went 0-16 before his arrival. If the Jets can get the same from Wilson through his first three years, it will be a worthwhile decision.

The New York Jets are once again starting over following a 2020 season that provided no end of reasons for GM Joe Douglas to break things off with both head coach and quarterback.

Their marriage with Adam Gase was one that always appeared doomed from the start, and the overdue end came after a 2-14 campaign.

A more difficult split for Jets fans might have been the end of Sam Darnold's time as starting quarterback, which came with his trade to the Carolina Panthers ahead of the NFL Draft.

Yet last year provided plenty of evidence as to why it was past time for the Jets to accept it was never going to work with the 2018 third overall pick.

The Jets, who own the second overall pick, can look forward to a potentially brighter future with a rookie quarterback – widely expected to be Zach Wilson – and an exciting new head coach in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh and former Niners passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur will hope to inspire significant improvement on both sides of the ball in 2021.

Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on the final year of an era Jets fans will want to quickly forget, as well as look ahead to the start of Saleh's tenure in New York.

Offense

No offense was less efficient than the one belonging to the Jets in 2020.

They finished last in yards per play with an average of 4.72, ranking 31st in yards per pass play (5.16) and 24th in rush average (4.15).

New York was 28th in pass plays that went for 20 yards or more with 39, their struggles in moving the ball owing to a lack of consistently competent play at quarterback.

Darnold again did not play the full season, featuring in 12 games, and posted the third-lowest completion percentage in the league (59.6).

He threw nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions, the fourth-worst TD-INT ratio in the NFL and completed only eight of his 33 pass attempts of 21 air yards or more.

A bright spot in the passing game came from Jamison Crowder, the slot receiver who led the team with 699 receiving yards in 12 games.

Crowder caught 59 of his 89 targets, committing only two drops, with 14 of the incompletions aimed in his direction coming as a result of poor throws.

The running game provided little in the way of dynamism; future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore had the most rushing yards on the team (653) but did so at a rate of only 3.49 yards per carry.

Excluding kneeldowns, the Jets had 26 rushes for negative yardage, plus only four teams had fewer than their 37 runs of 10 yards or more.

By nearly every measure, New York's offense was one of the worst in football. With LaFleur calling the plays in 2021, the only way should be up, and the influence of Saleh on a defense with some foundational pieces in place should see them receive decent support from their team-mates on the other side of the ball.

Defense

Though the season endured by the Jets' defense was defined by a bizarre blitz call by former coordinator Gregg Williams that cost them a win against the Las Vegas Raiders, they were far from the worst in the league on that side of the ball.

New York finished the season 21st in yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 5.74 in 2020. The Jets were especially strong against the run, ranking seventh in the NFL as they conceded just 4.03 yards per rush.

It was the pass defense that let the Jets down. Only six teams gave up more yards per pass play than New York's 6.93, with the Jets ranking 28th in the NFL in passing first downs allowed with 235.

Yet they can afford to have hope of an upturn in fortunes on defense with Saleh calling the shots, having overseen an elite defense during his time with the Niners.

San Francisco finished the season fifth in yards per play allowed despite a plethora of injuries, including losing pass rusher Nick Bosa to a torn ACL against the Jets.

Their performance was illustrative of the influence of Saleh's coaching, and he will hope to have the same impact on a Jets roster not lacking for talent.

New York placed the franchise tag on Marcus Maye, who led the way in the secondary following Jamal Adams' trade to the Seattle Seahawks.

Maye's 11 pass deflections were tied for the fourth-most among safeties. Up front, Quinnen Williams blossomed following an underwhelming rookie year in 2019.

Williams' seven sacks were the fifth-most among defensive tackles in 2020, while he stuffed 6.0 runs for negative yardage, a tally bettered by only two players (Ed Oliver and Zach Sieler, both 6.5).

The Jets brought in edge rusher Carl Lawson, whose 65.5 combined knockdowns and hurries were tied for the ninth-most in the NFL, in free agency.

Between Williams and Lawson, the Jets could have a duo to turn their pass rush, which ranked sixth in hurries (177) but tied 20th in sacks (31) into a potent force that may elevate their defense into the upper echelon that Saleh is used to occupying.

Offseason

The Jets were in the advantageous position of having a plethora of salary cap space to use in a year when many teams had to make savings, rather than go out and spend.

However, they did not simply go for the splash signing - as previous regimes in New York have done – but instead made astute additions to raise the talent level of the roster.

Lawson was the headliner, arriving on a three-year, $45million deal, after recording a pressure rate of 22.3 per cent (seventh among all edge rushers) last season.

Saleh will also attempt to get the best out of a former first-rounder in defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, whose career has been hindered by injuries since an excellent 2018.

Linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Lamarcus Joyner represent low-risk deals after signing on one-year contracts to bolster the defensive depth.

On offense, LaFleur will hope to maximise the upside of wide receiver Corey Davis after he inked a three-year deal worth $37.5m following a career year with the Tennessee Titans.

Davis produced a 'big play' - defined as a burn for a catch of 20 yards or more, or a burn for a touchdown - on 38.3 per cent of his targets in 2020. That ratio was 12th among receivers with at least 50 targets.

New York also took a one-year flier on wideout Keelan Cole, who was open on 81.3 percent of his targets in 2020, but the quarterback selection with the second overall pick must be right for those pass-catching talents to fully blossom after Darnold was dealt to the Panthers.

All the signs point to Wilson being his successor.

He would represent a significant gamble having had just one season of elite production at BYU, where he faced a schedule lacking top-tier opposition in 2020, and endured shoulder issues. Wilson had shoulder surgery in 2019.

However, Wilson's numbers from 2020 point to a quarterback who should excel running LaFleur's offense. Wilson completed 73.4 per cent of his play-action attempts, tied-fifth among FBS quarterbacks with at least 50 such passes.

Play-action is a staple of the Kyle Shanahan scheme LaFleur will run in New York, while the Jets can also be encouraged by his completion percentage on third down (79.7 - first among FBS quarterbacks with a minimum of 40 throws) and on throws travelling 20 yards or more in the air (63.6 - first among FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 such passes).

The challenge will be that kind of production translating to the NFL. There are no guarantees in that regard but, with a new head coach, an incoming new quarterback and a crop of free-agent signings with the ability to have an instant impact, this latest reboot brings reason for optimism among Gang Green fans.

The New York Jets are officially moving on from Sam Darnold, trading the 23-year-old quarterback to the Carolina Panthers on Monday. 

The Panthers are sending the Jets three draft picks – a sixth-rounder this year, plus second and fourth round selections in 2022. 

New York has the second overall pick in the April 29 draft, and will almost certainly nab a quarterback with hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after Darnold never lived up to expectations. 

The Jets moved up three spots to select Darnold with the third pick of the 2018 draft, but the former USC star struggled with consistency at the pro level. 

In 38 career starts for the Jets, he went 13-25 while throwing for 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions with a 59.8 completion percentage and a 78.6 quarterback rating. 

He had some encouraging performances – but not nearly enough, with only four 300-yard passing games. He threw for fewer than 200 yards in exactly half of his 38 starts, and only had 13 games with multiple TD passes. 

This past season was especially disappointing, with more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (nine) while averaging 184.0 passing yards per game with a 72.7 passer rating – the worst among the 36 QBs with a minimum of 200 pass attempts. 

While Darnold can be blamed for some of New York’s offensive struggles, he wasn’t surrounded by many star players. The Jets, who have had two head coaches and two different offensive systems in Darnold’s three years with the team, haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2015 (Chris Ivory) – the same season the franchise last had a 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker). 

The offensive line has also been shaky, as Darnold was sacked on 8.8 per cent of passing plays last season, the third-worst mark in the league among QBs with at least 200 attempts. 

Darnold now joins a Panthers team that has Teddy Bridgewater, who has two years remaining on a three-year, $63 million contract he signed in 2020. 

Bridgewater had 15 TD passes and 11 interceptions in going 4-11 as a starter last season for Carolina.

Zach Wilson reflected on a "crazy" draft process after the San Francisco 49ers traded up to number three overall during his pro day.

The BYU quarterback was being put through his paces in front of representatives from NFL teams as news filtered through of the Niners' move.

Originally in possession of the number three pick were the Miami Dolphins, who sent it to San Francisco in exchange for number 12, a third-rounder and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.

Shortly after, the Dolphins struck a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to go back up to number six. 

To do so, Miami parted with the number 12 pick they received from the Niners, a fourth-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder, while also receiving a fifth-round selection in return from the Eagles.

Wilson has been heavily connected to the New York Jets, who are scheduled to pick at number two.

That is a prospect he revealed would be a dream, with general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh among those watching him.

He also said he had been in discussions with the 49ers, whose GM John Lynch was in attendance at the pro day.

"It would obviously be a dream come true," Wilson said to ESPN when asked about the prospect of New York picking him at two.

"It was great to see those guys out here. Great staff. Love those guys. Joe Douglas is a great guy. It was good to see him out here. They've got a good thing going.

"I have spent some time with them on Zoom meetings, talking back and forth a little bit, but nothing more than any other team. 

"Coming up to the draft there are so many what ifs going in.

"But really I'm just so grateful to be here, grateful for the opportunity and humbled that I am even in this situation

"I'll be happy with whoever gives me the chance in the draft."

Asked about the 49ers' move, Wilson added: "I found out right after the throwing session, you know it is crazy. 

"That's what I was talking about, there are so many what ifs about what is going on, so we will see coming up in April. 

"I've had a couple of conversations with them as well, but we will see what happens coming up to April."

The 2021 NFL Draft will take place on April 29 in Cleveland.

Clemson Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence is expected to be picked at number one overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As well as Lawrence and Wilson, there are likely to be three other QBs picked in a dramatic first round: Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones.

Another offseason sees another scramble for quarterbacks in the NFL.

Last year, Tom Brady was among those on the move and he ended the 2020 season with his first Super Bowl title in Tampa Bay and seventh in total.

Already in 2021 there have been significant deals at the position again, including the Los Angeles Rams' big play for Matthew Stafford, deeming him a significant upgrade on the expensive, underperforming Jared Goff.

There are big names remaining on the board, though, and we take a look at the state of play.

 

DESHAUN WATSON

It is not every day a QB of Watson's quality becomes available – and the Houston Texans might still argue he is not. But the 25-year-old was bogged down by a poor team last year, finishing 4-12 despite leading the league in overall passing yards (4,823).

Watson wants out, and the Texans would be well advised to listen to any serious offers if the alternative is to let one of the league's top talents sit on a massive contract.

The asking price will surely be high. Stafford, 33, threw for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020 – beaten by Watson across the board – and set a precedent when he went to the Rams for Goff, two first-round picks and a third.

What does that make Watson worth? Well, his desire to depart might bring the value down slightly, but Houston would surely expect picks as well as a QB prospect.

TUA TAGOVAILOA

Tagovailoa was the fifth pick just a year ago, but the Miami Dolphins might already be interested in moving on, especially if that means a trade for Watson.

Although there were signs of Tagovailoa's promise as he won his first three NFL starts, 2020 ended with his benching in a Week 16 comeback win and then three costly picks in a Week 17 defeat that saw the Dolphins miss the playoffs.

Miami might feel a move for Watson would make them contenders, while the Texans could use a talent like Tagovailoa in their rebuild.

There is a complication, however. The draft picks Houston would receive alongside Tagovailoa in return for Watson would be the same selections they spent themselves in a deal for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. In order to save face, an alternative package might appeal.

SAM DARNOLD

Such an offer may well materialise elsewhere in the AFC East. The New York Jets are likely to have an interest in Watson if they move on from Darnold and do not want to try again in the draft with the second pick.

That would have been the first selection had the Jets not inexplicably rallied to two wins, gifting Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The signing of Watson would significantly soften that blow, but it would most likely mean the Texans taking on Darnold, who has played for two more years than Tagovailoa and is still to show he is really up to the task. A career tally of 45 TDs and 39 interceptions for a passer rating of 78.6 does not compare favourably.

His team even failed when apparently tanking. Houston would hope a Darnold-led rebuild would fare better.

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

This busy market might have piqued the interest of San Francisco 49ers fans looking for a more reliable option at QB, where Garoppolo has started only 30 games in four years. It could be time for him to move on.

The landing spot for the 29-year-old would seemingly be New England, a place he knows well having previously served as Brady's understudy on the Patriots.

Brady stuck around longer than expected, so Garoppolo moved to San Francisco and performed well in 2019, starting all 16 games for the only time in his career and throwing 27 TDs before making the Super Bowl.

That proved the peak, however, with defeat in the big game, although the Pats look to be interested again having failed to properly replace - yes – Brady.

CAM NEWTON

Newton was the man Bill Belichick initially turned to, agreeing a one-year deal with the former MVP that makes him a free agent again this year.

A return to New England cannot be entirely ruled out, although a team and coach used to Brady's brilliance never really adjusted to a QB who threw only eight TDs.

Newton might have other options. Washington head coach Ron Rivera knows the player well from their time together with the Carolina Panthers and could be more appreciative of his other talents, notably a running game that brought 592 yards and 12 TDs on 137 carries in 2020.

JAMEIS WINSTON

Winston, once a number one overall pick, is another man heading for free agency. He spent last season with the New Orleans Saints but found himself third choice, behind utility player Taysom Hill, and participated in only 51 plays.

It was a far cry from the previous year when Winston was Tampa Bay's starter and involved in just about everything, remarkably throwing 33 TDs and 30 interceptions.

That 2019 campaign encapsulated how chaotic the 27-year-old can be, but he would argue he deserves to at least be competing for a start somewhere. If not back to New Orleans, Winston could be headed for somewhere like Washington and a team looking to change things on the cheap.

RUSSELL WILSON

Wilson certainly would not come cheap. And it seems improbable he would come at all, regardless of the suitor.

But noises of unhappiness in Seattle, where the Seahawks failed to give their superstar quarterback the help he needed, were followed by Wilson's agent saying only moves to the Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders or Chicago Bears would appeal.

Dak Prescott's new deal in Dallas closed that avenue, while the Saints and Bears are already set to be way over the cap. Any blockbuster move for Seattle's most prized asset could change the entire complexion of this offseason, though.

A month on from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' triumph in Super Bowl LV, teams across the NFL are preparing to make moves they hope will propel them towards glory.

This year's free agency period is unlikely to see a move as decisive as Tom Brady's decision to swap the New England Patriots for the Buccaneers.

However, with franchises dealing with a likely declining salary cap because of the impact of playing a season largely without fans, the chaos of the league's open market should still be fascinating to watch.

But which teams will be the most active when the NFL opens the window for teams to begin negotiating with free agents next Monday?

Here we look at those likeliest to be busy and the signings they could make.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Cap Space: $85.7million

From having the number one pick in the draft, which they will almost certainly use on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, to having the most salary cap space in the league, the Jaguars are the franchise that holds the keys to the offseason.

New general manager Trent Baalke and first-time NFL head coach Urban Meyer have no shortage of needs to address following a one-win 2020 season.

Lawrence will require much-improved pass protection if he is to thrive and lead Jacksonville to contention. With that in mind, they should be in on the sweepstakes for All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, who cannot be franchise-tagged by the San Francisco 49ers and is likely to command over $20m a year.

Given the money at their disposal, the Jags will be among the leading candidates to lure edge rusher Shaquil Barrett from the Buccaneers. He could form a formidable tandem with Jacksonville's 2019 first-round pick Josh Allen.

New York Jets

Cap Space: $72.4million

The Jets' offseason will be defined by whether they stick with Sam Darnold at quarterback or use their second overall pick to select one of the top four signal-callers in the draft class.

But beyond that pivotal decision, Jets GM Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have an arduous task of turning one of the worst rosters in football into one primed to contend in the AFC.

Saleh may look to his old team, the 49ers, for whom he was defensive coordinator from 2017 to 2020, to build up his secondary in New York.

Richard Sherman could be tempted cross country to stay with Saleh, while slot cornerback K'Waun Williams is a New Jersey native who could offer the Jets a dependable presence familiar with the defense.

New England Patriots

Cap Space: $72.6million

Bill Belichick has rarely been one to spend big in his storied tenure as head coach and de-facto GM of the Patriots.

However, possessing a talent-poor roster and in danger of being left behind in the AFC East, this could be the year where he changes course, and Belichick has already made a significant move, bringing back offensive tackle Trent Brown in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.

New England must make a decision at quarterback after an unconvincing season from Cam Newton as Tom Brady's successor.

Regardless of who is under center, the Patriots will not compete if their quarterback does not have dynamic weapons among their pass-catchers.

Belichick has typically had a blindspot for wide receivers in the draft, so more experienced options with playmaking upside like Corey Davis and Marvin Jones could find a home in New England. Hunter Henry may also be a target if the Los Angeles Chargers decide not to pay the tight end who was franchise-tagged last year.

Indianapolis Colts

Cap Space: $50.5million

The Colts have the man they hope will be the answer at quarterback following Philip Rivers' retirement, backing Carson Wentz to rehabilitate his career under Frank Reich and acquiring him from the Philadelphia Eagles.

In terms of a support system, Wentz is heading into a team with a strong one in place, yet it could still be improved and the Colts have the wiggle room to be aggressive.

They may be an attractive destination for the aforementioned Williams, who would be an upgrade on the retired Anthony Castonzo at left tackle.

Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton could leave in free agency and it would not be wise for the Colts to rely too heavily on Michael Pittman Jr at wideout despite a strong end to his rookie season.

As they look to maximise Wentz's chances of being successful, a move for a high-profile receiver like Allen Robinson could make a great deal of sense for a team looking to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cap Space: $18.1million

The outlier here in terms of cap space but, having blown out the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, the Buccaneers will surely not be short of players wanting to join them on short-term deals to link up with Brady and make another push for a Lombardi Trophy.

Tampa will be busy enough trying to hold on to as many in-house free agents as possible, but the Bucs will find intriguing potential temporary options in areas of need on the open market.

Reinforcements may well be required on the defensive line given the possibility of Barrett going elsewhere.

The Bucs have seen one veteran, Jason Pierre-Paul, thrive on the edge. Perhaps Justin Houston, who has 19 sacks over his last two seasons with the Colts, could be tempted by the chance to chase a ring in Tampa.

On the interior, the Buccaneers have a monstrous presence in Vita Vea, and their strength in that area could allow them to take a swing on a former first-rounder in Sheldon Rankins, who has seen his career with the New Orleans Saints stall because of injuries but had eight sacks back in 2018.

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas still believes Sam Darnold can be a franchise quarterback, but cannot guarantee it will be for his organisation. 

Speaking to reporters in a videoconference on Wednesday, Douglas stated he would listen to teams inquiring about the availability of Darnold, whose future with the Jets has been under constant speculation since the team completed its 2020 season with a dismal 2-14 record.  

"I will answer the call if it's made," Douglas said. "Like I've said, Sam is, we think, a dynamic player in this league with unbelievable talent who really has a chance to hit his outstanding potential moving forward. But like I've said earlier, if calls are made, I will answer them." 

Darnold's struggles this past season, combined with the Jets being flush in cap space and owning the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, have triggered talk they are considering a change at quarterback.

Unless the Jets decide to exercise a 2022 option expected to be in the range of $25million, the 23-year-old will be entering the final year of his rookie contract. 

Even with the draft's top quarterback prospect, Trevor Lawrence, expected to land with the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first overall selection, the Jets are well-positioned to grab a new future signal-caller if they so choose.

BYU's Zach Wilson and Ohio State's Justin Fields are widely considered the next two best prospects at the position and potential top 10 picks.  

Douglas is still evaluating all his options and is in no rush to make a definitive determination on the Jets' plans. The draft is scheduled to begin on April 29. 

"We feel like we're really in no hard timeline in the immediate future to make a decision," he added.

The Jets have also been mentioned as a possible destination for Deshaun Watson should the Houston Texans grant the disgruntled quarterback's trade request.

Though New York have the draft capital and cap space to conceivably make such a move, Douglas said he would be hesitant to give up several prime assets for one player. 

"We're better positioned than we were this time last year. Our philosophy and stance has not changed, however," Douglas explained. "Our goal is to be a team that builds through the draft. 

"Ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft. It's the most team-friendly market in sports." 

Darnold would likely add to the Jets' stockpile of prime draft picks despite a disappointing 2020 season. The third overall pick in 2018 threw 11 interceptions with only nine touchdown passes while missing four games with a shoulder injury, and his 72.7 passer rating ranked 35th among qualifying quarterbacks.  

ESPN reported last month that a number of quarterback-needy teams had contacted the Jets about Darnold, believing his struggles could be attributed to a poor supporting cast and the offense's instability under former head coach Adam Gase.  

Robert Saleh warned there would be "no shortcuts to success" for the New York Jets after he was confirmed as the team's new head coach.

The Jets, who last reached the NFL playoffs in 2010, finished the 2020 season with a 2-14 record and fired Saleh's predecessor Adam Gase in December.

Saleh, 41, joins from his previous role as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and becomes the Jets' 20th head coach.

He has also held roles with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars and now becomes a head coach for the first time.

His task of improving the Jets is one that Saleh vowed to embrace, but he knows he is walking into a challenging job.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas described Saleh as "an exceptional teacher, motivator and communicator" as he welcomed him to New York.

"There are no shortcuts to success," Saleh said, "and I am committed to working with Joe to build this team the right way: with talented players that play fast and smart, and a staff that supports and helps develop them through it all.

"To Jets fans, your passion and commitment are priceless. I understand your expectations and embrace them. We have a lot of work to do and can’t do it without your support. Thank you for your warm welcome and please stay safe and healthy."

Douglas is convinced Saleh has rich potential as a head coach.

"We spoke to some tremendous coaches, but Rob is the right partner and leader for us," Douglas said.

"His vision for this team aligns with what we have been working to establish here the last two years. Coach Saleh's energy, knowledge and focus are contagious and will serve our team well as we continue to develop our culture, our foundation, and move this organisation in the right direction."

The New York Jets have reached an agreement in principle with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to become their head coach.

Saleh will become the Jets' 20th head coach, taking the helm after Adam Gase was fired earlier this month.

The 41-year-old joined the 49ers in 2017 after previous spells in the NFL with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jets confirmed on Thursday they had "agreed in principle" for Saleh to become head coach.

ESPN reported Saleh was expected to make 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur his offensive coordinator at the Jets.

Defensively, the 49ers ranked fifth for total yards allowed (5,030), seventh in rushing yards (1,703) and fourth in passing yards (3,327) in 2020.

The Jets, who last reached the playoffs in 2010, finished the 2020 season with a 2-14 record.

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